The characteristics of the lion and the lamb form a vivid contrast of expectations when used metaphorically. While the lion is known for its strength and ferocity, the lamb is regarded as a gentle and dependent creature. Nevertheless, both are at times associated with the person and work of God. This study entails a study of pertinent biblical texts, which portray the Lord in these two metaphors, with special attention to their culmination in the person and work of Christ.
In the Ancient Near East. Because of the well-known characteristics of lions, they were of special interest to a broad spectrum of people across the ancient Near East and Africa.1 Due to the lion’s power and boldness, lions were often hunted for sport, especially by the Assyrian kings.2 Some captured lions were even kept in captivity (cf. e.g., Dan. 6:7).3 Indeed, The “ keeping of lions in captivity in ancient Mesopotamia is well attested in in the inscriptions and stone reliefs of the Assyrian kings, who used to let them out of their cages to hunt them down”4 and, “The Assyrian king Ashurnasipal II (ca. 883-859 B.C.) is reported to have maintained a breeding farm for lions at Nimrud, while in Egypt Ramses II (ca. 1290-1224 B.C.) supposedly had a pet lion that he took into battle.5
Representations and carved statues of lions could be found at important public places.6 City gates were especially suitable for such displays. Particularly noteworthy were the lion figures at Nebuchadnezzar II’s famed Ishtar Gate in Babylon,7 before which lay a processional way, “decorated with figures of lions in enameled brick.”8 Noteworthy also were the “two mighty lions of basalt, inscribed with a record of warfare,” which Shalmaneser III placed at the south gate of Til Barsip following his conquest of the city.9
Temples, palaces and thrones could also be adorned with lion figures and statues.10 A fine example is Tiglath Pileser III’s palace at Kalhu where, “Lions and bull colossi, whose figures were wrought with extreme cunning, clothed with power, were set up in the entrance for a wonder.” 11 Kings apparently were fascinated with the prowess of the lion. Accordingly, they often depicted themselves as possessing lion-like qualities. Thus Adad Nirari II of Assyria (911-891 B.C.) declared, “I am powerful, I am all powerful, I am brilliant, I am lion-brave, I am manly, I am supreme, I am noble.”12 Similarly Assur-nasir-pal II (883-859 B.C.) boldly proclaims, “I am lion-brave, and I am heroic! Assur-n™sir-pal, the mighty king, the king of Assyria, chosen of Sin, favorite Anu, beloved of Adad, mighty one among the gods, I am the merciless weapon that strikes down the land of his enemies.”13 The Hittite king Hattusilis I likewise says of his son and successor Muršiliš “You must enthrone him. […] In place of the lion, [the god will set up only] (another) lion.”14 Even the gods were at times compared to lions. Thus the Egyptian god Amun-Re is portrayed as a lion who “loves his possessions!”15 The Canaanite death god Mot is described metaphorically as a voracious beast with a “throat of a lion.”16
In the Old Testament. With this brief survey of the ubiquity of the lion imagery in the ancient Near East in view, it may be expected that the lion would also appear in the literature of the Old Testament. Such an expectation is amply rewarded. Indeed, the same images of ferocity and strength evoked in association with the use of the lion in the literature of the ancient Near East may be seen in the Old Testament. Many different Hebrew words for lion were used, often to depict lion-like qualities in human beings, especially warriors and kings, but even whole nations. Lion-like qualities in human beings could be presented both negatively and positively. Thus wicked individuals were at times compared to lions roaring after their prey and tearing them apart. Accordingly, David prays to the Lord for deliverance from wicked men saying, “ Deliver me from all who chase me! Rescue me! Otherwise they will rip me to shreds like a lion; they will tear me to bits and no one will be able to rescue me”(Ps. 7:1-2; cf. 17:9-12).17
One of the most poignant instances of David’s concern may be found in Psalm 22. Here David compares his adversaries to a “roaring lion that rips its prey” Ps. 22:13) and therefore prays to the Lord for rescue from “the moth of lions” (v. 21). Within the context of the second movement of the psalm, which expresses the psalmist’s suffering at the hands of his enemies (vv. 11-21), the imagery of the lion also occurs in a well known crux. In verse 16 (HB v. 17) traditional translations read something like, “They have pierced my hands and feet, ” a reading found not only in the LXX and Latin Vulgate, but in the ancient Psalms Scroll discovered at Nahal Hever.18 The MT, however, reads: Like a lion, my hands and feet.” 19 If the Hebrew text is allowed to stand, the imagery adds to the effect present in verses 13 and 21. Thus the psalmist feels strongly as though he were surrounded by a pack of voracious lions with their mouths wide open, ready to devour him.
Wicked leaders could also be likened to lions. The kings of Babylon and Assyria as well as the pharaoh of Egypt are depicted as vicious and voracious lions, which are bent on tearing other people and nations apart (Jer. 50:17; Ezek. 32:2). Even the leaders of God’s people could be said to be lion-like in their despoiling of the citizenry: “Her princes within her are like a lion tearing its prey; they have destroyed lives. They take away riches and valuable things; they have made many women widows within it” (Ezek. 22:25). Leaders and people together could make a city to display lion-like qualities. Nahum declares that such was true of Nineveh (Nah. 2:11-12). Indeed, whole nations were pictured as lions roaring after their prey (Isa. 5:26-30; Jer. 4:7; 5:6; 50:17). 20
The lion metaphor was also employed in a more positive setting. Thus the righteous person is said to be as “confident as a lion,” even while “the wicked person flees when there is no one pursuing” (Prov. 28:1). The lion’s strength and boldness are exemplified in courageous people. The brave Gadites who defected to David were said to be “fierce as lions” (1 Chron. 12:8). Courageous David reported that even as a youth he had-lion like courage, for he faced and killed a lion (1 Sam. 17:36).21 A bit of a strange tour de force occurs in Hushai’s reminder to Absalom that his father David possessed unusual strength and ferocity. Therefore if David and his warriors were to attack Absalom’s men first, he would effect such a slaughter that Absalom’s bravest soldier, “one who is lion-hearted-- will virtually melt away” (2 Sam. 17:10). In all of these, then, the quality of bravery is likened to the boldness of a lion.
In yet another setting, much as in the palaces on ancient Near Eastern kings Solomon’s power and royal status were further emphasized in that lion statues surrounded his throne (I Kings 10:19-20). Likewise, Solomon’s temple featured engraved lions Perhaps these were symbolic of the majesty and power of God whose earthly home was understood to be the temple (I Kings 7:12, 29,51; cf. Ezk. 8:16). The following study, however, is concerned with texts in which the lion is used metaphorically for the person and work of God.
The imagery depicting deity as a lion was also utilized by the authors of the Old Testament to portray the person and activities of Yahweh. The metaphor was also very familiar to the Israelite people. The metaphor of God as a lion was particularly present in the context of judgment. Thus Job, who at times felt that the Lord was persecuting him mercilessly, at one point complained, “If I lift myself up, you hunt me as a fierce lion, and again you display your power against me” (Job 10:16). Therefore, he pleads with God to exercise compassion and give him relief in order that he might enjoy his brief remaining time on earth (vv. 20-22).
During his illness Hezekiah likewise complained that God was relentlessly battering his sick body. Oswalt describes his pain in graphic terms: “The writer says he groaned for help through the night, but in the morning ‘the lion’ was still cracking his bones between his powerful jaws (cf. Job 3:23-26). By nightfall there seemed no hope at all.”22 Nevertheless, Hezekiah comes to realize that his sickness was designed for his own good: “Look, the grief I experienced was for my benefit. You delivered me from the pit of oblivion. For you removed all my sins from your sight” (Isa. 38:17). In yet another case, the author of Lamentations, while speaking for the citizenry at large in fallen Jerusalem, expressed his sorrow and pain saying with regard to God, “To me he is like a bear lying in ambush, like a hidden lion staking its prey” (Lam. 3:10). On the one hand, Jeremiah expresses his own personal deep feelings relative to God’s judgment and the trials, which he himself experienced at the hands of his countrymen (cf. v. 14). On the other hand, as God’s anointed prophet he wishes his hearers to understand that God was yet faithful to his people:
The LORD’s loyal kindness never ceases;
his compassions never end.
They are fresh every morning;
your faithfulness is abundant!
“My portion is the LORD, “ I have said to myself,
so I will put my hope in him (Lam. 3:20-22).
Jeremiah’s representative position as a citizen of Jerusalem who laments God’s judgment against the city is indicative of the fact that not only individuals, but also cities and whole nations could merit God’s lion-like judgment. In extended discourse (Jer. 25) Jeremiah prophesies that God was about to judge his people beginning with Jerusalem (v. 29) and spreading out to the whole nation, “Like a lion about to attack, the LORD will roar from the heights of heaven; from his holy dwelling on high he will roar loudly” (v. 30). That judgment will then extend “on one nation after another” (v. 32) and so to “all those who live on the earth” (v. 30). For, “The LORD is like a lion who has left his lair. So the lands will certainly be laid waste by the warfare of the oppressive nation and by the fierce anger of the LORD” (v. 38). Jeremiah employed the lion imagery elsewhere as well in announcing the judgment of foreign nations and cities such as Edom (Jer. 49:19) and Babylon (Jer. 50:44). Earlier, Amos also declared that Yahweh was a lion roaring from Jerusalem who would bring judgment not only against his sinful people in Judah (Amos 2:4-5) and Israel (2:6-16), but upon the surrounding nations as well (1:3-2:3).
Especially to be noted is Joel’s prediction concerning the eschatological future (the day of the Lord): “The LORD roars from Zion; from Jerusalem his voice bellows out. The heavens and the earth shake. But the LORD is a refuge for his people; he is a stronghold for the citizens of Israel” (Joel 3:16). In that day, “Because the nations have roared insolently against God’s people (Isa 5:25-30), the Lord will be as a lion roaring after its prey but in behalf of the return remnant.”23 Joel’s prophecy demonstrates that the metaphor of God as a roaring lion is not exclusively one of judgment.
Multiple uses of the lion metaphor also occur in John’s Apocalypse. Although the lion figure does not appear extensively in the book of Revelation, its uses are important. In Revelation 4:7 one of the four living creatures associated with the heavenly throne is said to be “like a lion.” These heavenly creatures are beings much like the seraphim and cherubim (Isa. 6:1-3; Ezek. 10:14). The imagery of the lion, however, is associated with the divine judgment prophesied in connection with the sounding of the fifth trumpet. With its sounding came a plague of locusts with “teeth like lions’ teeth” (Rev. 9:8) and after the sounding of the sixth trumpet, another plague is unleashed by four angels upon horses whose heads “looked like lions’ heads, and fire, smoke, and sulphur came after of their mouths” killing a third of humanity (Rev. 9:17-18). In Revelation 10:3 another angelic being is said to shout “in a loud voice like a roaring lion,” a simile doubtless emphasizing the volume and power of the angelic voice. The sounding of “seven thunders” served to provide an awesome effect to the angelic voice foreshadowing still further judgment.
Another fine example of multiple uses is found in the prophetic oracles of Hosea. To be sure, Hosea warns Israel and Judah of their coming judgment due to their infidelity and fascination with foreign deities (e.g., Hos. 13:7-8). Thus the Lord proclaims through Hosea, “I will be like a lion to Ephraim, like a young lion to the house of Judah. I myself will tear them to pieces, then I will carry them off, and no one will be able to rescue them!” (Hos. 5:14). Both kingdoms will thus suffer defeat and their people carried off as captives into exile. Nevertheless, in another oracle Hosea reveals the compassionate heart, which the Lord has for his people. In a future day he will forgive and restore his repentant people. “He will roar like a lion, and they will follow the LORD; when he roars, his children will come trembling from the west” (Hos. 11:10). “As Gomer/Israel would respond in renewed fidelity to her husband (Hosea/Yahweh; 2:19-20), so the future Israelites will come in reverential trust and love to the Lord. As Gomer/Israel would experience renewed blessings based upon fidelity and a lasting relationship with Hosea/Yahweh, so God’s people will experience the long missing covenant blessings in the Promised Land.”24
In Israel’s distant historical past in the days of its exodus and movement to the land of promise the hireling prophet Balaam declared that the forces of the Lord’s people were as irresistible as a mighty lion or lioness (Num. 23:24; cf. Num. 24:19). Similarly and yet in a far greater way Isaiah foresees a time when Israel’s lion-like God will come to fight for his people and Jerusalem in particular and his people will prevail over their enemies (Isa. 31:4-5). Micah also foresees a time when “survivors from Jacob will live among the nations, in the midst of many peoples. They will be like a lion among the animals of the forest, like a young lion among the flocks of sheep, which attacks when it passes through; it rips its prey and there is no one to stop it. Lift your hand triumphantly against your adversaries; may all your enemies be destroyed!” (Mic. 5:8-9). As Barker points out, “Just as a lion mauls and mangles sheep and other animals, so Israel will overcome all her foes… . No one will be able to withstand her. The Messiah’s kingdom must triumph over all opposition.”25 In all of this one sees the imagery associated with divine authority, power, and judgment.
Ultimately Israel will enjoy a period of great peace and prosperity when its redeemed remnant returns to the Promised Land. In that era of prosperity and peaceful conditions there will be a highway named the “Way of Holiness … reserved for those authorized to use it … no lions will be there, no ferocious wild animals will be on it; they will not be found there … those whom the LORD has ransomed will return that way. They will enter Zion with a shout. Unending joy will crown them” (Isa. 35:8-10). In that millennial era even the mighty lion all be tamed: “An ox and a young lion will graze together, and a small child leads them along … a lion, like an ox, will eat straw” (Isa. 11:6-7; cr. Isa. 65:25).26 All of this will be accomplished through the Lord’s anointed One, the Messiah, Christ Jesus We shall return to this point later. But there is yet another image connected with the animal world that also finds its ultimate application to Christ. To that metaphor we turn our attention before a final consideration of the significance of both images as summed up in him.
In the Ancient Near East. Sheep are often mentioned in the records of the ancient Near East. They were valued for a great many things such as being a source of milk, meat, and wool for clothing. As well sheep were used to tread grain into the soil and as sacrificial animals. In some cases they served as symbols for certain gods such as Ea, the god of magic, in Mesopotamia and Amon, the patron god of Thebes.27
As for lambs, they too were a source of wool and for sacrifices, but also were often utilized as gifts to someone.28 In addition, they were mentioned in connection with the Sumerian land of paradise—Dilmum. Of that promised land of peace and purity it was said, “The land of Dilmum is pure, the land of Dilmum is clean … the lion kills not, the wolf snatches not the lamb.”29 In the mythology of ancient Ugarit, the death god Mot boasted that he had taken the life of the god Baal: “I approached Baal the Conqueror; I put him in my mouth like a lamb, he was crushed like a kid in my jaws.”30 Accordingly, the goddess Anat sacrificed seventy sheep “as oblation for Baal the Conqueror,” and subsequently she seized and killed death itself and Baal revived.31
In the Scriptures. As in the ancient Near East, so in the Bible the lamb was valued for its wool (Prov. 27:26) and as a sacrificial animal. Lambs were used in connection with the daily, weekly, monthly, and special times of sacrifice. Of particular note was the practice of sacrificing seven lambs on each of the days of Passover (Num. 28:16-25). The image of gentleness associated with lambs also appears in the Bible. Thus Jeremiah likens himself to a docile lamb ready to be led to the slaughter in the hands of his enemies (Jer. 11:19). That image is also present in Jesus’ sending out the seventy ahead of him, who would be “like lambs surrounded by wolves” (Lk. 10:3). God’s people could also be described as gentle, obedient and dependent lambs in the arms of Yahweh, their great deliverer and shepherd. Thus in a future day, “Like a shepherd he sends his flock; he gathers up the lambs with his arms; he carries them close to his heart; he leads the ewes along” (Isa. 40:11).
In a dramatic contrast, however, the lamb can at times appear in contexts associated with judgment. For example, Isaiah prophesies that after God will judge his people, renewed peace will come to the land; “Lambs will graze as if in their pastures; amid the ruins the rich sojourners will graze” (Isa. 5:17). It is not the Israelites who will enjoy their land, however, but the foreign invaders, here pictured as tending their flocks in former Israelite fields or (if the parallelism is to be strictly observed) metaphorically as lambs. In Jeremiah’s prophecy against Babylon, however, it is the Babylonians who will be led “to be slaughtered like lambs, rams, and male goats” (Jer. 51:40).
The imagery of the lamb, however, is most significant with regard to the promised Messiah, David’s heir, Jesus Christ. Indeed, at the onset of Jesus’ ministry John the Baptist declared him to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29; cf. 1:36).32 Jeremias relates John the Baptist’s words to the prophecy concerning the suffering servant foretold by Isaiah: “He was treated harshly and afflicted, but he did not even open his mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block, like a sheep silent before her shearers, he did not even open his mouth” (Isa. 53:7).33 Westcott declares, “There can be no doubt that the image is directly derived from Isaiah liii 7 (comp. Acts viii 32).”34 It is of interest to note that the Ethiopian eunuch was reading this very passage when Philip came and explained the meaning of this passage in “the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). Young relates John the Baptist’s words to other texts as well as Isaiah 53:7 and remarks, “One cannot read the prophecy without thinking of the fulfillment when before the judgment seat of Pilate the true Servant answered not a word.”35
Yet there is more, for the imagery in Isaiah also builds upon elements in the Old Testament sacrificial system. Accordingly, Westcott points out that, “It is impossible to exclude the thought of the Paschal Lamb, with which the Lord was also afterwards identified.”36 If John the Baptist here is merely reflecting current Jewish opinion that the coming Messiah would suffer as a substitute for the peoples’ sin, yet without dying, “He speaks better than he knows.”37 For the New Testament writers would go on to demonstrate that Christ was the ultimate fulfillment of the meaning of the Passover. Thus Paul confidently states, “For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). Peter points out that the believer was redeemed “not by perishable things like silver or gold, but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, namely Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18-19).38
It is this Jesus in whom the metaphor and imagery of the lamb finds his grandest expression. This is brought out forcefully in John’s Apocalypse, the New Testament book of Revelation. Here he is described as a lamb, which was victorious over death and is setting on his throne (Rev. 5:6-14), hence the One (5:5) worthy to open the seals on the scroll (6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12; 8:1). The lamb also is seen as The Ruler on his throne (7:9-17) who will shepherd those who “have come out of great tribulation” (7:14). Subsequently the Lamb stands on Mount Zion giving comfort and assurance to them concerning their final victory because of their fidelity to the Lamb (14:1-4).
In a striking contrast, the Lamb is also portrayed as a royal judge who inflicts judgment upon those who are hostile to the Lamb (14:10; 17:12-14). In one of the most poignant similes in the Scriptures the wicked of earth are pictured as crying out to the mountains and the rock, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16), for it was the great day of their judgment. The normally gentle lamb is here presented in the most unlikely roles, that of a wrathful creature.39 This Christ can and will do, for as the great Victor over evil (19:11-21) and Ruler of the universe (5:1-3) as well as this world (11:15-18), all nations will one day “come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (15:4).
It is the redeemed who are singled out as particularly enjoying the final triumph of the Lord and the fulfillment of their union with Christ. Such is done under the metaphor of the “wedding celebration of the Lamb” (19:7-9). The significance of these metaphors is that “God’s people are finally entering into the intimate relationship with him that he has initiated.”40 It is
“a metaphorical way of alluding to the final redemptive fact when ‘the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them’ (Rev. 21:3). This is why John can apply the same metaphor of the bride prepared for her husband to the new Jerusalem which comes down from heaven to dwell among men (Rev. 21:2), and why the angel can refer to the new Jerusalem as ‘the bride, the wife of the Lamb’ (Rev. 21:9).”41
And around that grand new Jerusalem, “The wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev. 21:14). The Lamb’s earthly throne will be there (Rev. 22:1-3) and the earth’s intended paradise will at last be reached. It will be a city that has no need of a Temple because “the Lord God—the All-Powerful—and the Lamb are its Temple” (Rev. 21:22). As Walvoord observes, “Here the shadows are dispelled and, as the Scripture indicates the Lord God Himself and the Lamb are the temple of the new city. No longer is the structure necessary, for the saints are in the immediate presence of the Lord with no need for an earthly mediator or for shadows of things eternal.”42 Nor will the city need sun or moon to shine on it, “Because the glory of the Lord lights it up, and its lamp is the Lamb” (21:23). Moreover it is a city reserved for believers --for “only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27).
Common idioms are often formed from the lion or lamb. Thus one may “beard the lion in his den” or “take the lion share” of something, and people can be described as being “gentle as a lamb.” Seldom, however, would one find the two metaphors together. A notable exception is the familiar saying that the month of March “comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.”
Lion and lamb are not often brought together in the Scriptures either. Yet in a few key texts both are found together in connection with some aspect of the Messiah. As we noted earlier, Isaiah speaks of conditions in the future era of safety and peace during Messiah’s reign as being just and having a stable serenity in which,
A wolf will reside with the lamb,
and a leopard will lie down with a young goat;
an ox and a young lion will graze together,
and a small child leads them along.
A cow and a bear will graze together,
their young will lie down together.
A lion, like an ox, will eat straw (Isa. 11:6-7
In this edenic scenario, “The herbivoral nature of all the creatures points to Eden restored (Gn. 1:29-30).”43 Indeed, “All enmity will disappear, not only from among men, but even among beasts, and even between men and beasts all will be in harmony.”44
In another context Isaiah foresees a similar scene in connection with the Messianic era, “A wolf and a lamb will graze together; a lion, like an ox will eat straw” (Isa. 65:25). This era is commonly known as the millennium, a period between the second coming of Christ to put down the forces of evil and the final blessed state in the new Jerusalem. “There will be worldwide peace… . The universal harmony will not be restricted to humans. Nature, which has been ‘groaning in travail,’ awaiting its redemption, will be freed from the curse of the fall (Rom. 8:19-23). Even animals will live in harmony with one another (Isa. 11:6-7; 65:25), and the destructive forces of nature will be calmed.”45 While it is significant to note that the appearance of lion and lamb occur in connection with future blessed conditions relative to the Messiah and his just rule, there is yet another important linkage of lion and lamb to Christ.
Revelation 5:5-6 is an extremely important passage for the metaphors of the lion and the lamb as referring to Christ. Although elsewhere in the book of Revelation Christ is portrayed with the imagery of the lamb more than two dozen times,46 in Revelation 5:5 Christ, ”The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David,” is first acknowledged as the only one who is capable of opening the seven-sealed scroll. Then in the next verse he is identified as a “Lamb that appeared to have been killed’ (i.e., “he had been slain, yet he still lives””.47 The twin metaphors of a lion and a lamb with regard to Christ point to central themes in the Scriptures and find their climax in connection with events in the consummation of earth’s history.
Already in the Patriarchal Period in Jacob’s prophetic blessing of Judah he proclaimed:
You are a lion’s cub, Judah,
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He crouches and lies down like a lion;
like a lioness who will rouse him?
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he comes to whom it belongs;
the nations will obey him (Gen. 49:9-10).
Thus Mathews rightly observes, “The intimation of an idealized permanent, universal reign must also look to the perfect eschatological figure, David’s Greater Son. The Christian interpreter who identifies the king of our passage explicitly as Jesus of Nazareth, therefore can agree with the historian that the Davidic monarchy must be initially in view and also can agree with ancient Jewish interpretation that our text requires a messianic fulfillment.”48
The appellation of Christ as “the Root of David” is also significant. Thus Beale observes, “The two descriptions of Christ as ‘the lion from the tribe of Judah’ and as ‘the Root of David’ are from Gen. 49:9 and Isaiah 11:1, 10 (cf. also Jer. 11:19; 23:5; 33:15; Zech. 3:8) … both concern the prophecy of a messianic figure who will overcome his enemy through judgment. Jesus fulfills these two prophecies.”49
It is important to note that as the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10), to whom the rights of ruling rightly belong, the Messiah is also descended from Judah as David’s heir (2 Sam. 7:18-29; 1 Chron. 17:16-27; Ps. 89:19-37; Ezek. 34:24-31; cf. Isa. 11:1-9; Rev. 11:15). Indeed, these passages point to a vital, unifying theme, which is woven into the fabric of Scripture. For it is in this “Lion,” who is also the Root of David, David’s heir, that the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants find their fulfillment (cf. Jer. 23:5-6; 31:31-34; 33:14-18; Ezek. 37:24-28). In Christ the provisions in the progressively unfolding promised plan of God will ultimately be realized. “50 Truly, in the risen Christ resides the culmination of the imagery relative to God’s lion-like qualities.
As noted above, Christ, the Lamb, is also conquering, victorious Lamb. Although he fulfills completely the purpose in the Passover as a subsitionary sacrifice for the sins of mankind, that sacrifice would be incomplete without his resurrection (cf. 1 Cor. 15:12-20, 56-57). As mankind’s Redeemer, who is victorious over sin, death, and all evil forces, the living Lamb now sits on his throne as the unrivaled, respected, ruler of all; as the Lion he occupies full authority reserved for the Lion of Judah, David’s heir. Ultimately all of earth’s history will find its consummation in this Lion and Lamb of whom it is said, “The kingdoms of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). The lion and lamb metaphors thus point to the fact that Christ is both the Ruler of all and man’s Redeemer.
These metaphors and the attendant imagery give hope and confidence to the believer. As taken into union with Christ (Col. 1:27) the believer may through the power of the Holy Spirit exhibit lion-like courage together with lamb-like following and dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, “When the Chief Shepherd appears” the faithful believer “will receive the crown of glory that never fades away” (1 Pet. 5:4). Until then, even as we exclaim, “Come, Lord Jesus!” may the benediction of the writer of Hebrews (13:20-21) rest upon us:
“May the God of peace who by the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus Christ, equip you with every good thing to do his will, working in us what is pleasing before him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”
1 Although it is beyond the scope of this study, it should be noted that lions were also known in earlier times in Greece as represented abundantly in Greek art. T.L.B. Webster (From Mycenae To Homer [London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1977], 27) maintains that in the realm of art the lion theme was “foreign to the Minoan-Mycenaen world.” Nevertheless, lion representations were common enough in subsequent Greek art. As an example even from the earlier Mycenaean era, mention should be made of the famed Lion Gate at Mycenae, which served as the principal entrance to the citadel. Here the lions were “perhaps a heraldic symbol of the royal family,” (Carl Roebuck, The World of Ancient times [New York :Scribner’s Sons, 1966], 114).
2 See the illustrations of Assyrian lion hunts in A. Parrot, Nineveh and the Old Testament (New York: Philosophical Library, 1955), 73; James B. Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Princeton: University Press, 1965), illustration #40; and A.T. Olmstead, History of Assyria (Chicago: University Press, 1951), frontal piece and figure # 154, opposite p. 495. R. K. Harrison (“Lion,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, rev. ed., ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley et al. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986] 3:141) remarks, “Assyrian palaces were not infrequently decorated with bas-reliefs showing the king and his courtiers engaged in a lion hunt.”
3 See further, “Nēšu,” in The Assyrian Dictionary, N II, eds. Erica Reiner and Robert D. Biggs (Chicago The: Oriental Institute, 1980), 195.
4 Lois E. Hartman and Alexander A. Di Lella, The Book of Daniel, The Anchor Bible (Garden City: Doubleday, 1978), 199.
5 R. K. Harrison, “Lion, “ 3:141. See also, G. S. Cansdale, “Lion,” in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, eds. M.C. Tenney and Steven Barabbas (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1975), 3:940); and Reiner and Biggs, 193-97.
6 See H. W. F. Saggs, The Might That W as Assyria (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1984), 182 and plate 19b; and J.B. Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Bear East: A New Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Princeton: University Press, 1975), illustration # 88.
7 See Pritchard, Ancient Near East, 1965), illustration # 193.
8 A. Parrot, Babylon and the Old Testament (NewYork: Philosophical Library, 1956), 27. See further, the interesting illustrations of lions on pp. 28 and 29.
9 Olmstead, History of Assyria, 119.
10 See Robert C. Stallman, “'árî,” in New International Dictionary of Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 1:516. See further the representation of Gilgamesh and a lion in the palace of King Sargon of Assyria in Olmstead, History, figure #112, opposite p. 275.
11 Olmstead, History, 202. Note also the lion statue set up in Sarugi as “a provincial imitation of the lions from Kalhu,,” illustration #67, opposite p. 120.
12 Daniel David Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia (Chicago: University Press, 1926-27), 1:110.
13 Ibid, 110.
14 Gary Beckman, “Bilingual Edict of xattušili I,” in The Context of Scripture, eds. W. W. Hallo, and K. Lawson Younger, Jr. (Leiden: Brill, 1997, 2000, 2002), 2:80.
15 M. Lichtheim, “The Report of Wenamun, “ in Context, 1:91.
16 Dennis Pardee, “The Bavlu Myth,” in Context, 1:264. Note that Michael David Coogan (Stories from Ancient Canaan [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978], 107) translates the Ugaritic line as “My appetite is like that of a lioness,” a reading supported by the original Ugaritic text. See Cyrus H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1965), 178 (text #67:1, line 14).
18 See Martin Abegg, Jr., Peter Flint, & Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible (San Francisco: Harper, 1999), 519.
19 This disputed text has received abundant discussion in commentaries and critical studies. See, for example, J.J. Stewart Perowne, The Book of Psalms, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2 vols. in one, 1976), 242, 247-48. The chief problem face by the usual English translations centers on understanding the Hebrew consonantal text k’ry as being a form of the verb kārāh, “to dig,” which entails taking the final consonant yodh as an archaic remnant and the aleph as being intrusive, both of which uses, though not too common, are attested elsewhere. The MT faces the difficulty of structural imbalance in the parallelism due to the lack of a verb in the parallel member. Yet such ellipses are also not without examples, especially where the balance in parallelism is achieved via a ballast variant. For details, see Wilfred G.E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 26 (Sheffield, England: The University of Sheffield, 1986), 343-48.
20 In the New Testament the Apostle Peter adds to this picture by depicting Satan as a roaring lion, which seeks its prey “1 Pet. 5:8), while Paul testifies as to his deliverance “from the lion’s mouth” 2 Tim 4:17). The phrase doubtless indicates his being found not guilty by the Roman authorities
at his initial trial. Many Christians did, however, come to face the lions in the Roman arena.
22 John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 684-85.
23 Richard D. Patterson, “Joel,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Rev. ed., eds. Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 343.
24 Richard D. Patterson, Hosea (Richardson, TX: Biblical Studies Press, 2008), 108.
25 Kenneth L. Barker, “Micah,” in Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999), 104.
27 See C. Dohmen, “kebeš,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, eds. G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, Heinz-Josef Fabry, trans. David E. Green (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 7:43-48; J. C. Moyer, “Lamb,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, rev. ed., 3:61-62.
28 See The Assyrian Dictionary, K, eds. A. Leo Oppenheim, Erica Reiner, and Robert D. Biggs (Chicago: The Oriental Institute, 1971), 166-67.
29 S. N. Kramer, “Sumerian Myths and Epic Tales,” in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 38. See also S. N. Kramer, The Sumerians (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), 147-49.
30 Michael David Coogan, ed. and trans., Stories From Ancient Canaan (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978), 112.
31 Ibid., 110.
32 For various interpretations of this metaphor concerning Jesus, C. S. Keener, The Gospel of John (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), 452-54.
33 J. Jeremias, “mnçv,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 1:339.
34 B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 1:39).
35 E. J. Young, The Book of Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 3:351. John N. Oswalt (The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, ed. Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998], 392) adds: “If the author did not intend his readers to think in terms of sacrifice, he certainly made a major blunder in his choice of metaphors. Many commentators … agree that this verse is a primary source of John’s ejaculation.”
36 Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, 1:39.
37 Andreas J. Köstenerger, John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 66. Köstenberger goes on to add: “The evangelist, however, places the Baptist’s declaration into the wider context of his passion narrative, where Jesus is shown to be the ultimate fulfillment of the yearly Passover lamb (see Exod. 12), whose bones must not be broken (John 19:36; cf. 19:14).
38 As an interesting aside, one may note that believers themselves are at times likened to lambs. After his resurrection, Jesus recommissions Peter to his service. He instructs Peter as an “under-shepherd” to Christ, the Good Shepherd (John 10:11) and Great Shepherd who sees to the maturing and well-being of his believing flock (Heb. 13:20-21; 1 Pet. 2:25) to “feed my lambs” (John 21:15). Peter did not miss the Lord’s point nor neglect his commission, for he later points out that Christ is the Chief Shepherd who has entrusted his work to other “under-shepherds” until he himself will come again (1 Pet. 5:4). Viewed in the light of the shepherd imagery associated with Christ, it is perhaps not so strange, as sometimes maintained, that at Jesus’ birth the angels appeared to shepherds (Lk. 2:8-14). Indeed, the promised Messiah and shepherd of Israel (Ezek. 34:22-24) lay nestled in a feeding trough in Bethlehem.
39 The simile here might well be termed what G. Oestreich (“Absurd Similes in the Book of Hosea,” in Creation, Life and Hope, ed. J. Moskalal [Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University, 2000], 101-126) terms an “absurd simile” in that the lamb is acting contrary to its natural existence.
40 G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 940.
41 George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 248.
42 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1966), 326.
43 J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1993), 124.
44 Young, The Book of Isaiah, 1:388. To the contrary, note Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, 283.
45 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 1211.
46 It is of interest to note that both the first beast and second beast (the Anti-Christ and the false prophet) are portrayed with imagery associated with these two metaphors of Christ. For the first beast had a mouth “like a lion’s mouth” and the second, had “two horns like a lamb” (Rev. 13:11). False causes and religions often come disguised as “Christian” in nature! For Old Testament precedence to the first beast of Revelation, see Daniel 7:7-8, 19-25.
47 Ladd, The Revelation of John, 87.
48 Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 896. For an extended discussion of many suggested interpretations in addition to Mathews’ fine treatment of Gen. 49:9-10 (pp. 892-96), see Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis Chapters 18-50, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 658-61. See also Ezekiel 21:25, which contains a strong allusion to Genesis 49:10.
49 G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation , The Nnew International Greek testament Commentary (Grand Rapuds: Eerdmans, 1999), 349.
50 W. C. Kaiser, Jr. (The Promise-Plan of God [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009], 383) calls particular attention to the throne scene in Revelation 4-5 with its various titles ascribed to Christ. He concludes, “Almost all of these royal and conquering themes resonate with the presentation of the Messiah and the promise-plan, especially in the Prophets.”